June 2, 2008

Essential Thunderbird add-ons

Author: Mark Alexander Bain

What's your normal routine when you log on in the morning? It's probably something along the lines of: pour cup of coffee, fire up Thunderbird, check your email, check your other email accounts that Thunderbird can't access, pour another cup of coffee. Well, here are a few Thunderbird extensions that may make your mornings go a little more smoothly.

Extension series

But first, here's an application that is not an extension. With KDocker you can dock any application into your system tray just by clicking on it. With it, you won't have to remember which desktop you left Thunderbird on; the Thunderbird icon will always be visible. And you can use KDocker from the command line with a command like kdocker thunderbird & to start Thunderbird and dock it at the same time.

If you're a KDE user, you don't even have to start Thunderbird when you log in -- you can use KDocker and Thunderbird in conjunction with the KDE Autostarter to do that for you. Move to the ~/.kde/Autostart directory (or ~/.kde4/Autostart if you've already moved to KDE 4). Save the command above into a file and make that file executable:

cd ~/.kde/Autostart # or ~/.kde4/Autostart
cat > start_thunderbird
kdocker thunderbird
chmod +x start_thunderbird

Next time you log in, Thunderbird will load in your system tray. That saves you a few mouse clicks and maybe 10 or 20 seconds every day.

KDocker lets you see the Thunderbird icon in the system tray, but that icon provides no indication of when a new email message has arrived. For that, add the Mozilla New Mail Icon extension. Once you've installed it, you'll see a little envelope displayed in your system tray whenever you receive a new message, and if you place your mouse pointer over the envelope it will pop up a message like "Local Folders has 2 new messages."

Another way you can be notified of new email whilst you're browsing the Internet is by using Thunderbird Biff, which actually consists of two extensions -- one for Thunderbird and one for Firefox. When they've both been installed, Firefox will display a notification icon in the bottom right of the status bar whenever you receive a new email message.

Speaking of the Internet, if you install the Thunderbrowse extension, you can visit any Web pages without starting a separate application.

If you have a Yahoo!, Hotmail, Lycos, MailDotCom, Gmail, Libero, or AOL email account, you'll find the WebMail extension invaluable. Normally Web email accounts are accessible only through Web browsers, but you can access them just as if they were POP accounts by using the WebMail extension. Like Thunderbird Biff, this isn't a single extension. It consists of a main extension plus one for each of the accounts that you want to use.

When you've got your WebMail extensions installed (and set up to access your email accounts) you'll probably find that your volume of Thunderbird email will drastically increase (this afternoon I received 93 messages through my Yahoo! account alone). Another extension will help you manage those messages; it won't do any thing that you can't do already, but it will help you do it more easily. The Mark all read button extension sits on your Thunderbird tool bar and does in a single click what you would otherwise do by clicking on Message -> Mark -> All Read.

While you're managing your email, another extension you may find of use is Show InOut. You can see the Sender column when you view your email, but that's not helpful if the sender is you (for example when you've replied to a message). Once you've installed the Show InOut extension, you'll see an additional column -- Correspondent -- and you can look down the list of messages to see which ones were sent from you and to whom they were sent.

Also from the makers of Show InOut is the useful Copy Sent to Current extension. You already know how to save a copy of a reply into the current directory that you're working in; with this extension you can save a new message in the current directory as well.

And finally, we have the FoxClocks extension, which displays world times in the status bar. For example, by looking at Thunderbird's status bar you can see that it is currently 22:43 in Mumbai; 18:13 in the UK; and 10:13 in the US Pacific timezone. This extension won't save you any time, but it may help you understand why no one is answering any of your email.

Every Monday we highlight a different extension, plugin, or add-on. Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us about one that you use and how it makes your work easier, along with tips for getting the most out of it. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your chosen topic recently or have one in hand.)


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